Friday, November 21, 2008


Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei


Reconciliation as an institution and function of the transitional justice system is done with contrition and forgiveness based on the conviction of the parties involved. There have been numerous discourses to explore possibilities of genuine reconciliation in the absence of justice. Justice comes in two forms, restorative and retributive. Restorative justice calls for the reconciling of the forces involved in a conflict to restore and build broken relations without punitive actions against perpetrators. On the other hand, retributive justice prosecutes and punishes guilty perpetrators for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In all cases, transitional justice examines the two – restorative, through truth commissions, and retributive through tribunals or courts. In the transitional justice process none is a substitute for the other, and individuals searching for the truth, or prosecuting perpetrators are to have no connections with the conflicts and its associated problems. A tribunal can succeed a truth commission or any of them can be duly implemented. Other countries like Sierra Leone and Rwanda have experienced some forms of the two. While South Africa, Ghana, and some states in the United States resolved their internal conflicts with only truth commissions.

The post-conflict situation in Liberia is challenged by numerous occurrences and expectations. The effort to establish the actual causes of the Liberian Civil War is on-going through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission established under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that finalized the brutal aspects of the Civil War. The process as a whole is transitional and needs to be handled carefully in the absence of biases and prejudices. This paper is an attempt to critically examine the ability and will of the commission to effectively propel the shattered and traumatized people of Liberia towards the achievement of genuine reconciliation in the midst of blunders, glaring deficiencies, oversights, contradictions, claims, counterclaims, rebuttals and propositions and limited human, material and financial capacity. The argument therefore does not attempt to dismiss the strides made by the commission in executing its mandate.

Historical Distortions and Empirical Contradictions

History as the account of events of the past built on political and socio-economic occurrences can not be evaded in reality. What history suffers is distortion and biases from academicians who deliberately write to satisfy clique or individual interests. However the case with Liberia, it is empirical that the written history of Liberia is replete with errors and deliberate distortions. Written Liberian history texts taught in schools have no details on the contributions of many sectors to the growth of the state, some are humiliating to the tribal communities, and many with glorifications for the settlers. Today, eyebrows, and questions are being raised about the reality of the existence or actual occurrences of some incidents in Liberian history, the Matilda Newport and Canon situation is one of such.

Every event of today must have some connections with precedence from the past. The present can not therefore be decided without references and linkages with the past just as the future can not be determined in the absence of acquaintances with the past and the present.

This issue of deliberately prejudicing and slicing the contextual issues of our history does not only pose a challenge to our reconciliation process, but also retains a declassified mentality of the Liberian psyche for a significant part of our population. Our reconciliation process is therefore highly challenged to clarify the contradictions.

One of the mandates of the TRC is to ‘conduct a critical review of Liberia’s historical past, with the view to establishing and giving recognition to historical truths in order to address falsehoods and misconceptions of the past relating to the nation’s socio-economic and political development’ [Article IV (d) TRC ACT]. With varying and controversial accounts of our history, one wonders critically as to whose writing may be considered the falsity and whose writing the truth by the TRC.

The Commission, according to its Act is to investigate occurrences between the period January 1979 to October 14, 2003. We will have to be told by common logic whether an incident that occurred on January 1, 1979 have no unbalance force that precipitated its occurrence from December 31, 1978 backward. The causes of events can not be evaded in a reconciliation or prosecution process, and a problem can not be addressed without using its causes as a prime variable. These are necessary to further expound in the discourse and sharpen the contradictions in our reconciliation process because the Act did not mandate the Commission to go into events preceding 1979. The Commission will only thread into such incidents based on an application by any person or group of persons.

Critically, the Twin Battles, the issue of the Fernando Po Crises, the Matilda Newport Situation (whether True of False), the 1951 and 1955 incidents, the numerous raids of natives by the LFF and many more incidents are not within the stipulated mandate of the Commission, except by the interest of a group or an individual who may by inquisitiveness request the Commission to do so.

Questions of Neutrality and Independence

If we are all to be at the Great Judgment Day, those to prosecute or ask us questions are those who never live with us on earth. There hands are cleans of all worldly deeds, whether good or evil. They therefore morally fit to mount the podium, enjoy the requisite independence, and characteristic neutrality to ask anyone a question and declare you fit for either heaven or hell.

Transitional justice or conventional judicial systems require independence of juries, panelists, judges, and commissioners, etc. This independence is required to render unbiased and impartial decisions that will set a peaceful trajectory for progress and avoid, by the conscience of the participants –perpetrators, victims as well as witness- a relapse into chaos. Does our institution of reconciliation, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission possess the characteristics of independence, impartiality, neutrality with reference to our civil war, and our political evolution as a nation-state in connection with varying ideologies? This question is puzzling and raised another critical one of the possibility of x-raying every Liberian to find the most neutral to lead the reconciliation drive. Is there any of us, so unique and without stains from the causes and consequences of the conflict? Let the search begin. So help us God!

Since the process began many questions of such have emerge from key actors as well as victims. Some members of the Commission, however the case, were connected to either the cause or the consequences of the civil conflict. Some are from the political institution which many of the witnesses have condemned for being responsible for our national woes. Will they now resign and put out public defense for their party. At the same time, some are from various activist organizations, and student groups that agitated in the country thereby necessitating the change that led to the war. What can they also say of their roles? One may wonder whether they will build their defense in their report, or possibly, there may be a compromising report to satisfy the apparently opposing forces on the Commission.

Claims and Counterclaims

We are seeking to have genuine reconciliation. This desire, if fervent and ardent to our quest for peace and development must be guided by principles of truth and judgment of morality. In this effort, we must speak nothing but the whole truth since indeed we have decided to speak of our roles and reconcile our socio-political and economic disparities that will lead to the possible consolidation of peace among us as a nation and people.

It is the importance of the truth to the process of reconciliation that all witnesses are required to take oath before explaining their roles. But if the witnesses are fiendish enough and have no reverence for the process, their testimonies become clothed with lies, errors and contradictions, thereby making a buffoonery of the process.

The hearings of our Truth and Reconciliation Commission since its inception in January 2008 have been characterized by claims and counterclaims which expose the possibilities of falsities and distortions in the testimonies of witnesses. With these ensuing, it ponders our consciousness to think with exegeses about the prospects of achieving genuine reconciliation when the truth or the whole are allegedly not been told.

In fact, the first testimony that was made before the Commission on the first day of public hearing still remains an issue of serious controversy. The accused perpetrator has mustered all courage to challenge the testimony against him on the basis of its inaccuracy as he alleged. That testimony also lifted the floor mat and dragged the public attention to a claim that it was done under a conspiratorial supervision of one of the Commissioners.

In recent occurrences, the pages of newspapers and headlines of major news have been focused on the thematic hearings of the Commission, but regrettably, rebuttals and counterclaims and street discussions are challenging those testimonies continuously, and are simultaneously posing more encumbering challenges to the overall process of genuine reconciliation, since the parties involved in the cross-claiming scenarios are not submissive to accepting what have been said under oath vis-à-vis there is no barometer to test the testimonies and determine the lies form the truths, or no means of avoiding witnesses from lying under oath.

General Expectation versus Capacity

The general expectation of the people of Liberia is to live in perpetual peace and economic prosperity. Toward this end, the people are committed to whatsoever initiative that can reconcile the past, build the peace and improve both the governance and the economy. This is generally demonstrated by the people’s support to major activities in the country – the Elections, the Reconciliation process, etc.

At present, the vicinity of the Centennial Pavilion that has been over the years an abandoned and quiet area is fully active and paying host to Liberians from all orientations who assemble daily based on their inherent interests to follow the reconciliation process of their country. At the bottom of their heart is to have PEACE and DEVELOPMENT, though many persons suggest different ways of reaching that ultimate desire. For some a War Crime Tribunal is the best way to solve the problems of our civil crisis and bring perpetrators to justice. But others believe that reconciliation through the TRC should remain the only channel of addressing national anguish and tragedy. Yet, there are some who believe that ‘sleeping dog should lie’, so that ‘we can not dig out old wounds’.

However, the road to achieving genuine reconciliation to meet the general expectation of the people need to be matched with the capacity of the state, its institutions of governance and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The capacity of the Commission- human, material and financial needs significant support and effective monitoring till the end. The Commission at one time went comatose as a result of limited funding to the extent that statement-takers launched series of strikes.

People are recommending, in regards to the alleged connections of some members of the Commission to the conflict which undermines their neutrality, that foreigners be hired to write the report and actual history of the country based on the data gathered by the Commission. With the ongoing expectations of the public, the need to empower the commission in finance, human and material resources needs not be overemphasized. In the absence of such capacity building to ensure efficiency in its work, the people’s expectation will be cataclysmically defeated and the reconciliation process will remain illusive.


The process of attaining genuine reconciliation in a post-conflict nation is as delicate as the process of making and keeping the peace. Our quest to have a nation reconciled with its people in harmony and economic prosperity must be treated with much delicacy and reverence for basic principle of transitional justice.

The truth and Reconciliation Commission, the transitional justice institution championing our reconciliation agenda, is threatened by many challenges that may erupt controversies after the process have concluded. These challenges are manifested in the structure, mandate and targets of the commission as have been made public during its period of
Hearings. The process has witnessed accusations from major actors on the independence and neutrality of Commissioners, on the credibility of witness and so forth.

The people are now in their consciousness, diagnosing the possibilities of achieving genuine reconciliation amidst the deliberate distortion of historical facts and claims of falsities and witch-hunting, and limitations or inadequacies on the part of the Commission itself.

However, the Liberian people are committed to seeing their nation peaceful in booming with economic opportunities, and a spirit of trust and confidence in the system of governance. This resolve of the people to reconcile and build peace have been manifested to their courage and support given to all national initiatives.

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